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Steve Litt's Pool Maintenance Method

Copyright (C) 2006 by Steve Litt

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As I write this page, it's been a year since the resurrection of our pool. The pool has had good times and bad. For most of the summer after the resurrection I took care of the pool and it remained immaculate. But then came a winter of neglect, followed by a bad pump impeller (probably caused by that neglect), and then a bout with chlorine resistent algae.

I've discovered two things:
  1. Pool maintenance requires your time
  2. I often have little time, sometimes for weeks on end
Over this spring and summer I've developed some procedures to minimize both algae and required time. This document outlines those procedures.

How did I figure this out?

I'm frequently asked "Steve, how do you know so much about so many things?"

The skills attained from following the Universal
 Troubleshooting Process help me fix almost anything.


A Few Warnings

ALWAYS shut off the circuit breaker and completely bleed the system (via the pressure relief valve) before starting any kind of disassembly on the filter. As will be mentioned in this document, at 20PSI (a reasonable working pressure), an 18 inch diameter filter housing top has over 5000 pounds of force on it -- enough to lift a car. I have heard anecdotes of a filter top blowing off, high into the air, and landing in the neighbor's yard. This kind of power can break bones, cause brain damage, and kill.

ALWAYS check everything after reassembly before turning the circuit breaker back on. Try not to have any body parts above the filter while turning on the circuit breaker (and possibly the timer switch). Try to stay away from the filter the first few minutes after turning on the system. Once again, you want to avoid a situation where a part blows off and hits you.

If you see a filter housing leak, shut it down. If the leak appears to come from the seal between the housing top and bottom, you might try regreasing and reseating the gasket and tightening the belt, or maybe even replacing the gasket. If none of these things work, call in a pool professional. If the leak comes from an actual crack in the housing, the filter could explode, which could be injurious or fatal.

For all the reasons above, keep young children away from the filter when you're working on it. Tell your children not to try to disassemble the filter, and tell them why they shouldn't.

This should be obvious, but always conect a pool drainer hose (those blue plastic hoses) to the waste (to street) pipe off the multiport valve, and roll that hose out to the street or a driveway slanted toward the street. The volumes of water evacuated during backwash and rinse will make a mess, it could undermine your house's foundation, and the contained clorine would not be good for plants. Make sure the hose has no large holes, and that it's tightly secured to the waste pipe with a radiator clamp.

Always turn off the pump, and wait for it to spin down (maybe 5 seconds) before changing the setting of the multiport valve. If you were to try to switch the multiport valve while the pump was going, it would create a water hammer that would harm your multiport valve or other part of your pool system, and could even cause a pipe, filter, valve or other component to explode, which would be very dangerous.

Always be sure that your multiport valve is set on Filter before loading DE powder. If you accidentally reload DE powder when the multiport filter is in the Backwash position, the DE will jam the interior of the grids and possibly the pipes leading to it. Because the grid mesh is reinforced on the interior but not exterior, the grids could explode, requiring the purchase of expensive new grids. If you ever accidentally load DE with the multiport set at Backwash , shut it down, switch to rinse, and run in rinse mode until no more DE comes out the hose into the street.

Use common sense. There's no way I can list all the actions that would create damage, injury or death.

Executive Summary

My pool maintenance method includes the following:
A few comments...

Hockey Pucks

I add chlorine "hockey pucks" (3 inch tabs) about twice a week, and when I do, I add a number such that I'm using about 1 tab per day. At 7 ounces per tab, and typical prices around $2.00 to $3.00 per pound (assuming buying in quantity on sale), this represents an expenditure of $1.00 to $1.50 per day.

Hockey pucks are stabilized chlorine, meaning the yielded chlorine won't "boil off" in hot weather, and you needn't add stabilizer. This is a cheap and easy way to maintain your chlorine level.

Depending on day to day chlorine measurements, it might be necessary to increase or decrease the chlorinator setting, and more or less than 1 hockey puck a day might be required, though I suspect that if the phospate level is low, it's doubtful more than 1 a day would be needed. I suspect that during the winter less than 1 tab per day would be just fine. Once again, this all depends on chlorine measurements.

Debris Removal

This can be as simple as reaching in and scooping out debris from the skimmer and emptying the bag on your automatic cleaner. A more thorough job might involve washing out the skimmer screen. Also necessary is a rinsing of the pool cleaner's bag or screen or whatever. Debris causes both filter clogging solids and algae growing phosphates, both of which make pool maintenance much harder. Removing debris early and often makes maintenance much easier.

Of course, if you don't have an automatic cleaner, you'll need to vacuum the bottom maybe twice a week, and certainly immediately after strong winds.

Phosphate Remover

Chlorine is poisonous to algae, and phosphates are algae's food. Just like a human with bad nutrition is more sensitive to disease and poison, so is algae. The combination of starvation and poisoning keep algae from even getting started.

A Simple Green Algae Primer

Green algae is the worst threat to your summer of fun. Sure, black algae can make your pool surface unattractive, as can yellow algae. But it's green algae that can turn your entire pool into thick pea soup unsuitable for swimming. Keep the green algae long enough, and little algae eating bugs invade the pool. Soon after them come the bug eating frogs. If you let it go long enough, I shudder to think what carnivore will come to eat the frogs. Swampy pools become a breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitos. You REALLY want to keep your pool clear of green algae.

The essentials of human life are food, clothing and shelter. Green algae doesn't require clothing, but it does require food and shelter.

Let's discuss food. Algae needs water with phosphates. Without phosphates, even if green algae gets a foothold, it won't really thrive, and it won't be healthy enough to survive chlorination.

Where do phosphates come from?

Shelter for algae is consistently wet surfaces with a decent chemical composition. Although green algae prefers surfaces such as your pool's walls and bottom, in a true green algae infestation it can inhabit even the water itself. In a typical situation, chlorination makes for lousy algae shelter -- chlorination makes the current green algae die and prevents it coming back. Normally...

An extremely phosphate-rich pool generates healthy and hearty algae. These algae can sometimes survive extreme chlorine shocking, especially if the shocking comes in a series of less than totally destructive waves. Over time the algae can become chlorine resistent.

I had a situation like that this year. Every few days I nuked the pool. At its lowest the pool's chlorine was way over 5ppm, yet a couple days after nuking, it turned green again, first on the surfaces, and then in the water. By brushing the sides and bottom daily, I prevented algae infestations, yet every daily brushing put significant opaque junk into the pool, requiring two or three backwashes per week. I was losing my battle.

The pool on 6/5/006 Nowadays I brush the pool twice a week, and you can see almost no junk when I brush it. The pool is consistently crystal clear, as you can see in the photo to the left. I use less effort to get more results.

So it's clear that phosphates have a major impact on green algae or lack thereof. The next question is, where do phosphates come from?

Where Do Phosphates Come From?

Phosphates are everywhere. Perhaps most disconcerting, your tap water propably has significant phosphates,  so draining and refilling would not necessarily get rid of phosphates.

Phosphates wash off of the people who swim in your pool. If people swim, there will be phosphates.

Detergents and fertilizer contain huge amounts of phosphates. Try to be very careful that ground water doesn't run into your pool. Be careful what pool chemicals you use. If you use an algacide containing phosphates, you could be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Be VERY careful not to spill household cleaners or detergents in your pool. Doing so could give your pool a phosphate load that's excruciatingly difficult to remove.

The Big Kahuna of Phosphates

Assuming you're careful enough not to spill detergent or fertilizer in the pool, and that your yard is built so major lawn runoff doesn't go into your pool, you'd think it would be easy to control phosphates in the pool. But nooooo...

Every day, every pool owner battles one particularly nasty phosphate source, organic decomposition. When a leaf falls into your pool and decomposes, guess what's produced? Phosphates. Even if your chlorine level is so high it bleaches the leaf, phosphates are produced. Every leaf, every pine needle, every lizard, every frog, every acorn, berry or nut -- every piece of plant or animal life remaining in the pool long enough to begin decomposing produces phosphates. It's bad enough that such decomposition produces particulate matter to clog up your filter, but throw in the algae feeding phosphates produced, and you can see that keeping your pool regularly cleaned is a must.

There's one more kind of decomposing  organic matter that produces phosphates -- decomposing algae.

That's right, you shock your pool to kill all your algae, and the dying algae create phosphates to fertilize future algae blooms.

Phosphate Killers

Every pool store has chemicals to eliminate phosphates. From what I understand, they all work the same way. They lock up the phosphates into a suspended solid that is filtered out by your filter. As the filter clogs with the suspended solid, backwashing sends the former phosphates into the street.

A few months ago, when my pool turned green every few days regardless of chlorine level, I de-phosphated with a whole bottle of Salinity phosphate remover. It took about 3 backwashes to get rid of the whole load, but combined with two more aggressive shocks, it got rid of my persistent algae problem.

Salinity phosphate remover Salinity phosphate remover is advertised to be used with salt pools (I guess the kind that create chlorine from salt). I don't have a salt pool, but the guy at the local pool store said it would work just fine on any pool, and indeed it worked well on my pool. This brand seems to have the advantage of removing roughly the same phosphate per bottle, and it costs a little less per bottle. In other words, it seems to have a price advantage.

This product is available from Pinch-A-Penny stores. The Pinch-A-Penny chain has stores in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. As far as I know, you cannot order this product online.

There may be side effects of using a salt water phosphate remover on a non-salt-water pool. If you know of any, please email me.
PHOSfree phosphate remover PHOSfree phosphate remover seems to be more widely available than Salinity. The only reason I don't use it is economic -- it seems to cost a little more per bottle and removes roughly the same phosphate per bottle, at least according to what I've learned so far.

PHOSfree is manufactured by Natural Chemistry ( Their website lists several retailers, including Leslies Swimming Pool Supplies. I bought mine at a bricks and mortar Leslies Swimming Pool Supplies store.

If you know a reason why PHOSfree is worth the apparent higher cost, or reasons why it really does not cost more, or a less expensive source of this product, please email me.

Both brands give recommendations for how much remover to remove based on the phosphate reading of your water and the gallon capacity of your pool. Keep in mind that if you've been heavily shocking your pool, high chlorine levels can make it impossible to get an accurate reading on your phosphate level. Also, if your pool is currently green, any measurement will show lower than what it would be after shocking the algae to death.

In other words, it's very hard to get an accurate assessment of phosphate levels in a problem pool. What I ended up doing was shocking the daylights out of the pool, and then as soon as the pool was clear, I used a whole bottle of Salinity phosphate remover, and backwashed every time the filter got clogged up with the precipitated phosphates.

Both brands also give recommendations for maintenance doses. A year ago, when I first considered maintenance doses, I said to myself "Hey, these phosphate removers are so expensive, why use them. After all, my pool's under control with chlorine alone."

I changed my tune after a bout with chlorine resistant algae a couple months ago. I had the chlorine level up near 10, and the chlorine still came back within a couple days of shocking. What I've found since using phosphate remover on a maintenance basis is that shocking has become, for the most part, unnecessary. That saves time and money. I've found that I can run my pool pump a little less per day. That saves money. I've found that scrubbing the sides and bottom takes less time because there's very little algae buildup. That saves time.

Using Salinity phosphate remover's weekly maintenance recommendation of 2 oz per 10,000 gallons, I can maintain my 30,000 pool almost a month using one $20.00 bottle. Right now I'm doing the maintenance every week, so phosphate removal is costing me about $24.00 per month. Considering that now I rely on chlorine "hockey pucks" and hardly ever need to use powdered chlorine, I'm recouping some of that $24.00 per month expenditure. Plus the fact that my pool is always ready for swimming.

Treating Disasterously Phosphated Pools

If your pools is disasterously phosphated (for instance, significantly over 1500 parts per billion), fixing it with Salinity or PHOSfree would require bottles and bottles, and also require many filter backwashes and reloads. It could become costly. For pools that can send water directly to the street (waste), there's an alternative.

Natural Chemistry has a product called PHOSfloc, which you should be able to buy at Leslies. I've never used the product, so you need to ask your pool store EXACTLY how to use it for your situation. I repeat -- I've never used this product, so all info in this section is second hand and needs to be confirmed with your pool store or pool professional. Where they disagree with my info, use their info.

PHOSfree works ONLY if you can vacuum your pool bottom straight out to the street, without going through the filter. You must NEVER allow it to go through your filter.

If you can vacuum straight to the street, from what I understand (I've never done it), what you do is adjust the PH to 7.2, then use the proper amount of PHOSfloc, wait the correct amount of time, and the phosphates will be precipitated to the bottom of your pool, at which time you can set install a vacuum to your skimmer, set your drain/skimmer valve to enable the skimmer, set your filter valve to waste (in other words, bypass the filter and send it straight out to the street), and vacuum the bottom of your pool out to the street. Your phosphates will be sent right out to the street.

Then you'll need to refill in order to replace the water you vacuumed out, test the current phosphate level, and do any necessary further reduction with PHOSfree or Salinity.


Phosphates feed algae, and chlorine poisons it. By simultaneously starving and poisoning algae, algae can be kept in check with a minimum of either poisoning or starvation.

The best way to achieve day to day chlorination on a pool without a salt chlorine generator is with "hockey pucks", those 3 inch tablets of chlorine. These tabs are 85% to 90% pure chlorine, and also have conditioner so that the chlorine doesn't boil off in the hot sun. When used in the right quantites and at the right chlorinator settings and in conjunction with a regular program of phosphate elimination, I've found that "hockey pucks" provide continuous chlorine levels to keep away algae.

The ideal way to introduce hockey pucks into the system is with a chlorinator built into the pipes returning water to the pool. Such chlorinators typically have an adjustment determining how quickly the chlorine is consumed. The required setting depends on chlorine level. In the absense of shocking, I'd raise the level if the chlorine level is high, and lower it if it's low. I typically keep mine between 1/2 and 2/3.

If the pool doesn't have a built in chlorinator, hockey pucks can be placed in a floating chlorinator. Floating chlorinators MUST be prevented from settling in front of the skimmer, or the high level of newly disolved chlorine will slowly destroy the pump and filter. One way to keep it away from the skimmer is to tie it to a railing or put some sort of an anchor on it. In my opinion, it's possible that a floating chlorinator could represent a safety problem -- I don't like having 90% pure chlorine sitting right there where people are swimming.

Hockey pucks should NEVER be placed in the skimmer. Doing so could take years off the motor or filter or filter grids or multiport valve. High concentration chlorine is very corrosive.

A built in chlorinator is under $100.00, with installation extra. I've never installed one, but my impression is it's one of the easiest pool system installations, especially if unions are used on both sides.

I'm glad I have a built in chlorinator. If I didn't have one, I'd install one in.

The Steve Litt Pool Maintenance Method

My pool's a challenge. It needed resurfacing when we bought it in 2000. It's never been resurfaced. Lots of nooks and crannies in which algae can hang out. Our family swims a lot, which is a challenge to water maintenance. But with my maintenance method, the pool's almost always clear and ready for swimming.

The key to this maintenance method is to simultaneously starve the algae by phosphate elimination, and poison the algae with chlorine. Three inch chlorine tabs ("hockey pucks") in a built in automatic chlorinator provide a steady level of chlorine with stabilizer (so it doesn't boil off on hot days), and a weekly or every two weeks treatment with phosphate remover assures a limited food supply for any algae that tries to grow.


I look at my pool and check for problems. Crystal clear water, good flow out the jets, good flow into the skimmer, no built up algae on the pool surface, no excess of leaves or other matter in the pool. I check the pressure on the filter, and backwash and reload if necessary. I make sure the timers are accurate.

Assuming no problems are found, this daily inspection probably takes about 5 minutes.

Twice a Week

I remove debris from skimmer and pool cleaner. I quickly brush the sides and bottom of the pool. I can go fast because a well maintained pool has little algae buildup. I can brush my 30,000 gallon pool in 20 minutes.

I measure the chlorine, stabilizer and PH of the water. Unless there's a big problem or something's significantly out of range, I just do my regular maintenance.

I add chlorine tablets ("hockey pucks) to my chlorinator. I add them such that my average use of 3" tablets is one per day. You might need more or less, depending on how you set your chlorinator, and of course how you set your chlorinator depends on your chlorine levels.

This whole procedure takes about 35 minutes, and occurs twice a week.

Every week

I add a maintenance dose of phosphate remover once every week. Afterwards, I set the pump so it will be on several hours (sometimes overnight) so that the precipitated phosphates are filtered out.


Every month I take a water sample to the pool store. Their measurements are much more accurate than my litmus strips.


I've found that by performing this maintenance, I cut way down on emergencies and shocking. Typically, my pool is always clear, chemically in range, and pleasantly swimmable.

Time and Money

Nobody ever said having a pool was cheap or easy. In this document I've discussed spending maybe $1.25 per day on chlorine tablets, and somewhere between $15.00/month and $30.00/month on phosphate remover. That's around $50.00 to $60.00 per month right there. Add in maybe $7.00 per month in Fiberclear, $3.00 per month on testing materials, and that means before any repair of pool, pump, filter, cleaner or piping, I'm spending $60.00 to $70.00 per month on pool maintenance. And with all that money, I still need to spend almost 2 hours per week on normal pool maintenance. Perhaps I'd be better off with a pool professional.

In my area, a top notch pool professional will maintain a 30,000 gallon pool for about $120.00 per month. So I'm saving $60.00 a month for 9 hours a month, or about $6.66 per hour. It's not worth it -- I'd be better off using the 9 hours to work.

Except remember I said a top notch pool professional. Finding a pool professional to do as good a job as I do isn't easy. Finding a pool reliable pool professional isn't easy. If the pool professional misses one weekly appointment in the summer, the pool could begin greening over.

When I had a pool professional, during the summer we typically missed a day of swimming due to pool shocking. Now, with shocking rarely needed, swimming can occur any time. To me, if you really want something done right, do it yourself.

As mentioned, pool ownership isn't cheap. The person wanting cheap would be better off buying a house without a pool. But before doing that, remember the cost of vacations. A week's vacation, away from the broiling southern summer sun, with swimming, for an entire family, costs hundreds of dollars a day. Transportation there and back adds a few hundred. Add in the fact that to take a vacation you'll probably need to miss work.

It's very likely a one week vacation costs double or triple the annual pool maintenance cost. And if one replaces pool ownership with a week's vacation, what to do about the other 13 weeks of summer? Of course, if you live in Chicago or Detroit a swimming pool isn't a big deal, but if you live, let's say, in inland Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico or Arizona, having a pool can make life much easier.

In southern states, a well maintained swimming pool is like a vacation resort right at home,  all summer long -- a way to keep cool while exercizing hard -- a way to have family fun -- a way to have fun and inexpensive parties. Pool maintenance starts sounding like an excellent value.

Pool maintenance isn't cheap, but it's money well spent.

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